Line of Duty (and five of the most corrupt cops in TV and film)
With shows like Broadchurch, Sherlock and Happy Valley pulling in viewers by the millions in recent years, there has been an abundance of police dramas on our screens lately, but while the above shows have been grabbing all the headlines, another drama series involving the police has been quietly building a reputation for itself.
Line of Duty first aired in 2012 to little fanfare and a modest audience, but the show has steadily grown a dedicated following and it stands out from all the other police procedurals for a couple of reasons. Firstly, its creator Jed Mercurio is one of only a handful of screenwriters to adopt a US-style 'showrunner' role in the vein of True Detective's Nic Pizzolatto or Breaking Bad's Vince Gilligan, giving the former Bodies and Strike Back writer oversight over the whole of the show's production. But the other key difference is that where the police forces in those other shows all focus on pursuing an external enemy, in Line of Duty it's the police themselves who find themselves under the microscope.
Each of the show's three series have followed the exploits of AC-12, an anti-corruption unit tasked with weeding out the police force's rotten eggs, of which there seem to be plenty. In the first series this involved a money laundering operation and the cover-up of a hit-and-run incident, but the pot thickened somewhat in the show's second series, which saw Keeley Hawes delivering a brilliant performance as Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton, whose own indiscretions see her caught up in a web of kidnapping, murder and bribery that eventually finds her convicted for conspiracy to murder and sentenced to life behind bars.
All of which leads us to series 3, which aired its final climactic episode last week, and this time around we've had gangland killings, drug smuggling, more murders and a whole slew of bent coppers falling over themselves to stitch each other up. It's not exactly a recruitment advertisement for the police, but it's edge-of-your-seat stuff throughout thanks to some brilliant performances from a talented cast that includes Vicky McClure, Adrian Dunbar and Martin Compston alongside a returning Keely Hawes.
Credit must also go to Jed Mercurio, whose sharp writing and gritty realism has won the show plenty of critical acclaim and the show isn't afraid to throw up questions about police culture behind closed doors, even if the show has touched a few nerves in the process. Sure, there's some artistic licence at work in places, but Line of Duty provides a refreshing take on the police procedural that has carved out a niche for the show in an otherwise crowded landscape. If you enjoy crime dramas but are looking for a different take on a well-worn formula, this is well worth your time.
You can find a trailer for the third series below, beneath that we've picked five other great police characters from film and television whose motives aren't as noble as you might hope from those entrusted to wear the uniform...
Bruce Robertson (Filth)
If it's colourful coppers you're looking for, you won't find any that are much more colourful than DS Bruce Robertson, the chief protagonist in Filth, but then he was conjured from the mind of Irvine Welsh, an author with plenty of previous form when it comes to a compelling psychopath. Even if you put aside the cross-dressing and the personal hygiene issues, you're still left with a man whose contempt for the public he is ostensibly paid to protect and serve is matched only by his contempt for the opposite sex. If you're looking for an upstanding police officer to be a beacon of all that's good about the law and justice, you'd better look elsewhere.
Captain Mark McCluskey (The Godfather)
The crooked police captain from Francis Ford Coppola's seminal gangster film might hold a senior position of command, but that doesn't stop him dishing out a little police brutality when he discovers that his ruse to assist in the killing of Vito Corleone in his hospital bed has been foiled by his youngest son Michael. Using his power to clear the names of the Tataglia family's associates in exchange for a series of back-handers from the mob, McCluskey is as bent as they come and he's more than earned his place in cinematic history.
Captain Dudley Smith (L.A. Confidential)
Ordering your colleagues to carry out orders on behalf of the Mafia is one thing, but killing them in order to take over a notorious criminal's heroin-smuggling empire for yourself is quite another. Still, that's exactly what the nefarious LAPD Captain Dudley Smith gets up to in Curtis Hanson's adaptation of James Ellroy's crime thriller L.A. Confidential. Played by the excellent James Cromwell, Smith is a ruthless operator, brought down only by his own overconfidence when detectives Exley and White figure out who is behind a series of killings. He's by no means the only corrupt police officer in the department, but you'd better believe he's the one pulling the strings.
Lieutenant Womack (Firefly)
The action on Joss Whedon's space opera Firefly may take place several centuries in the future, but if Lieutenant Womack is anything to go by, police corruption remains alive and well in the 26th century. Although not a series regular, Womack's appearance is enough to make for one of the show's most memorable episodes, revealing that he's supplementing his earnings as an enforcement officer for the Alliance with a little light organ smuggling on the side.
Basically everyone in The Shadow Line (except for Jonah Gabriel)
Anyone who watched avidly as the events of BBC drama The Shadow Line unfolded will know that this is pretty much ground zero as far as police corruption goes, with practically every character revealed at some stage along the way to be up to their necks in fifth. In fact, the only person that comes out of the series with any credit at all on that front is Jonah Gabriel, played by Chiwitel Ejiofor. Still, it has an excellent cast that also includes Christopher Ecclestone and Stephen Rea, so don't let the corruption put you off in this instance – this is well worth your time and possibly one of the most underrated crime dramas in recent memory.